Earlier this week a Duval County Judge ruled in favor of a Duval couple who had installed new landscaping following the 9 principles of Florida Friendly Landscapes (FFL). Several years ago Dr. and Mrs. Jules Sidle decided to replace their St. Augustine grass with a friendlier and drought tolerant landscape as their home sat on a lot that borders a small lake which drains directly into the Intracoastal Waterway in Jacksonville.
By eliminating the numerous fertilizer applications throughout the year and reducing their use of irrigation the Sidles felt they were helping the environment and water quality in their neighborhood. Hoping to encourage other homeowners to recognize their responsibility to protect such a precious natural resource, Dr. Sidle checked his HOA covenants and restrictions and filed an application in December, 2010, to remove his grass and replace it with numerous species of drought tolerant plants. After 30 days his application was deemed approved (as stated in his HOA CC&Rs) and Jules began the arduous task of eliminating the grass in phase one of his plan.
The HOA kept creating roadblocks for the Sidles with several more meetings with the ARB, requiring a FFL Gold certification and everything else they could think of. Of course the Sidles complied with every request and became the first Gold certified FFL yard in Duval County! Then in mid 2012 the HOA filed a lawsuit about the entire yard but later amended it to address the area between the sidewalk and street citing a covenant that states the homeowner must “maintain” the front strip between the sidewalk and street…covenants don’t say anything about “must be planted with St. Augustine grass”.
Mediation was scheduled. The mediator (a retired attorney in Gainesville) worked with the HOA attorney, the Sidles and their attorney in 2012 with both parties reaching an agreement. The HOA attorney called the HOA President with the outcome which he completely rejected even after giving their attorney complete representation.
So back on the road to a trial! Prior to the trial a hearing before the Judge was scheduled in early June, 2013, which I also attended. Of course nothing was decided at that hearing, both attorneys were heard, each providing case law and reasons for a ruling in his favor. Everyone waited and waited for the Judge’s ruling which finally came this week. The Judge ruled in favor of the Sidles on both counts: the Sidles had submitted their application pursuant to the Covenants and Restrictions, even though the Board asked for clarification at the February, 2011 Board meeting. Citing that clarification as a new application they still missed responding within 30 days of that so-called “new” application, and the application was again deemed approved after no response within the time frame. As the plan submitted originally showed the area between the sidewalk and street to be planted with a ground cover this was also deemed as acceptable in the ruling.
Should anyone need to cite this court case for their own lawsuit, the Fourth Judicial Circuit Duval County Case number is: 16-2012-CC-007430, Division CC-N. Coincidentally the HOA has now posted rules as to what they will allow homeowners incorporating FFL principles into their landscapes. It does state the area between the sidewalk and street must be planted with grass.
Thank you to Susan and Jules Sidle and all the rest who have helped uphold the Florida Statutes addressing Florida Friendly Landscape principles with drought tolerant yards and have made our water a little safer! Each one of these cases will hopefully make it easier for the next homeowner who is intimidated by their HOA Board when applying to install a FFL yard.